After a brief holiday respite, Palo Alto council members will usher in 2014 tonight when they choose their leader for the coming year.
The election of mayor, a largely symbolic position that lasts one year, should be a anti-climactic affair, with outgoing Mayor Greg Scharff customarily passing the title to the 2013 vice mayor, Nancy Shepherd. After that, the City Council will proceed to the more intriguing task of choosing a vice mayor.
Though the mayor in Palo Alto doesn't have any extra legislative powers, the position isn't strictly ceremonial. The mayor chairs meetings and works with the city manager to set the council agenda. The mayor also presents the annual "State of the City" speech, which allows him or her to set the tone for the coming year.
Last year, Scharff used the platform to announce numerous initiatives that the council ultimately adopted, including a smoking ban at local parks, wireless Internet at local plazas and a major expansion of the public art program. His position as mayor also gave Scharff the power to realize the dream of millions of teenagers this year -- a chance to play basketball with NBA star and former Paly phenom Jeremy Lin. The two held a brief one-on-one scrimmage in September to break in the new basketball court at the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.
Tonight, the council will pass a resolution expressing appreciation to Scharff for mounting a "spirited defense" against Lin, for chairing "efficient and productive meetings" and for his "outstanding leadership" on numerous council initiatives, including negotiations with the school district over the Cubberley Community Center lease; and the certification of the city's Housing Element.
In addition to the elections, the City Council is scheduled to hear a "Year in Review" presentation from City Manager James Keene. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.